Naipaul on Maupassant

Amitava Kumar responds to the outcry over V.S. Naipaul’s recent dismissal, in a Literary Review interview, of the writings of Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and other British writers.

I’m not sure what the fuss is about…. What I look for in Naipaul, far beyond the familiar kinds of provocation, is the ability to cut through all manner of received wisdom and give a sense of an original literary encounter. Let’s go back to the recent interview with Dhondy. Media accounts, from different countries, have noted his comments on Hardy, Austen, James, and others. No mention is made of what he says about Maupassant, but it is precisely his account about the Frenchman that gives us any real sense of one writer’s sharp, intimate exchange with another:

[W]hen I began to read Maupassant I was too ignorant to appreciate him fully. Some wisdom is needed, some experience is needed before you see a culture and you see the writers more clearly. If you were talking to me twenty-five years ago I would have said Balzac was the greatest French writer. Now I say Maupassant – a very great man….


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